Top Ten(ner or so) of Twenty-Eighteen

In no particular order (such a rebel this year!):

Nonfiction
Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife
Ok -so now I want a raven!

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Funny, kind, and honest look at who she was, who she is, and who she’s becoming.

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro
The American Plate by Libby O’Connell
I do like to read about food -we really are a reflection of what we eat.

Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
If it’s a “no” on the raven, I’d be happy with a European starling like Carmen…

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
The care and attention paid to the production of this book matches the content.

Rescue Board by Rebecca Erbelding
There’s always more history can teach us, if we’re willing to learn.

Fiction
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Suspenseful, with nuanced characters.

Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Oh my! Great story about the Great War!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Even the people closest to you have hidden stories.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Little white lies, neighborhood gossip, and friendship in tough times.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
Unnerving! -with a great, twisty ending!

Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
Western + fairy tale + suspense = this book.

Gilded Age by Claire McMillan
Hello Cleveland! Hello CMA’s Jazz Bowl! hello hankie (to dry my tears.)

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
100%! (bonus -if you like audio? Sound Up!)

Teen Fiction
Girl at the Grave by Teri Baily Black
Historical fiction mystery with a touch of feminism.

The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman
Steampunk joy

Juvenile Fiction
Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall
Sad to see the series end but loved the journey.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrack Kelly
A Newbery Medal winner -for a reason!

 

I’m excited to see what 2019 will bring!

-Stacey

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Top Ten of 2017 (plus a few) if You Were Asking Me -by Stacey

It’s my favorite time of year! All the sparkly lights and sweet treats and sappy movies? Love ‘em all! …Plus?! It’s time for everyone’s Top Ten books, movies, television, songs and Everything Else! Oh, what’s that? You want to know *my* Top Ten reads of 2018? Well, thanks for asking! Here they are -in alphabetical order- a mix of old, new, true stories, and fiction for all ages:

 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
I’ve learned –and enjoyed!- something from every book Ms. Brown has written and this book continues that tradition! If you’ve never read any of her previous books, I might suggest starting with Daring Greatly.

 

 

 

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Odd, creepy, and thought-provoking! (Do you really need more?) Read it before you see it?

 

 

 

 

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
I read this for Notable Books Council but have re-read it in preparation for Our Community Reads –coming in 2018! This book stands the test of time –and repeated reading!

 

 

As You Wish by Cary Elwes
I listened to Cary Elwes read his own memories of making The Princess Bride (one of the most perfect movies ever made!!). Charming! (But maybe more for die-hard fans of the movie than for the general reader…)

 

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This must have been a tough book to write but the effort was well worth it. I won’t waste your time with what I liked –read it and you’ll know on your own why it’s so good.

 

 

 

The Gilded Cage by Vic James
A world that feels familiar but isn’t anytime/anywhere I’d like to live. I’d describe this as fantasy with strong social commentary message?

 

 

Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Not all superheroes are super people but as the two main characters begin to really consider the world they’re growing up in –part of what they’re learning is the world is less black & white (more shades of gray) than they thought.

 

 

 

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
For all of my enjoyment of a sappy holiday movie –this book would kind of have the opposite effect. The story isn’t easy to read, but I think it’s one of an overlooked gem.

 

 

 

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
The final book in The Colors of Madeline series, this book was well worth the wait! The author kept a few good surprises and the ending was just right (for me)!

 

 

 

The Gene: an intimate history by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Taking a huge, almost incomprehensible topic, and making it engaging with personal connections? I give this an A++++!

 

 

 

Blood at the Root by Patrick Philips
Completely disturbing and completely true, this sordid history of a white-only county in Georgia continues to haunt me.

 

 

 

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman
A mini-history of grocery stores with more than a few entertaining shout-outs to Heinen’s, and the brothers currently running this expanding chain.

 

 

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
If you were granted one wish on your 18th birthday, what would you do? In this tiny town in the middle of the Nevada desert, they’re wishes have been granted –but the results aren’t always positive for the wisher…

 

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Thoughtful and timely – oh, please read this one!

 

 

 

 

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
Individual snapshots of how gun violence affects not just the individuals involved but the entire community.

 

Now that I’m done, I notice two big things… I read the same title (on different books) twice and there are a lot of serious-type books on my list. If you’re looking for some of the more upbeat titles I read, you can check out a collection development article I wrote for Library Journal this year called Twice-Told Tales. The books are all classic stories with a twist, for example: telling the story from a different character’s point of view or taking a recognizable storyline from the past and putting in a modern setting.

Happy Reading all Season Long!
-Stacey

Age is Just a Number -of Good (Teen) Books!

I have some sad news -It was decided to stop our monthly staff genre book discussions and I have to confess, I miss them already… At least you’ll have one last list of new (to you?) teen books to read and enjoy! Are you ready to see what everyone had to say about their selection this month? Me too!

Megan: The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter, is the 2017 William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. It tells the story of three teens living in a small Tennessee town in the heart of the Bible Belt. Dill is the grandson and son of preachers and their legacy is not a happy one. Grandpa Dill was a snake charmer who became unhinged after the death of his daughter and Dill’s father, also a Dill, is in prison. His mother wants him to leave school and help support the family, but his best friend Lydia wants him to go to college. Lydia is internet famous for her fashion blog and she is eager to leave her small town middle class life and strike out on her own in New York City. The third member of this odd little group is Travis, the gentle giant. He chooses to escape the abuse he suffers at the hand of his father by retreating into a fantasy world. This book is full of the big questions teens ask, friendship, tragedy, and hope. This is a fantastic coming of age story for fans of John Green and A.S. King

Gina: We Are Still Tornadoes is written in epistolary format, by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen. Discover the thoughts of these childhood friends, Cath and Scott after their high school graduation in the letters they write to each other the following year as pen pals. Cath moves out of state to attend college while Scott remains home to assist his father in the family store and starts a band with friends. They correspond throughout the year sharing their experiences, learning, and growing. Their letters bring them close together to realize that they are more than just friends. The addition of the 80’s music references made this book enjoyable.

Steve: The first book of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan, is an awesome fantasy story that centers on an orphan named Will. On the Choosing Day none of the task masters choose him as an apprentice, that is until a Ranger ultimately requests him. Will is dutifully learning the ways of the Rangers, under the mentorship of the mysterious Halt, when his training is interrupted by news that the evil Morgarath is making maneuvers in an attempt to gain control of the kingdom. And then the real action begins.

Carol: In Jackaby by William Ritter, Abigail Rook comes to America in 1892 looking for adventure, and she is hired as an assistant to R.F. Jackaby, a mysterious detective who can see the paranormal. On Abigail’s first day, they are called to the scene of a murder. Jackaby is convinced that the killer is other-worldly and the game is afoot. This first in a series was published in 2014 and is a smart, funny and clever read—like a Sherlock novel, with a supernatural twist.

Sara: I read the young adult novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. It is the first in a trilogy about a 16 year old girl who wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the accident that put her there or how two friends and her boyfriend died in it. Her family moves to a new state, hoping Mara’s memory will come back gradually. Instead she begins hallucinating that she can see her dead friends and has premonitions of things before they happen. She also falls in love with a mysterious boy, Noah, who she feels like she has know for a lifetime. Were they destined to meet by forces beyond her control? And how did her friends die in the accident while she was unharmed? This book is a psychological (and perhaps paranormal) thriller, fast-paced and definitely worth reading.

Lauren: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows is a delightfully ridiculous retelling of the story of Lady Jane Grey and King Edward VI. Their fantasy world centers on the clash between Verities, “normal people”…I guess, and Ethians, who have both a human and animal form and are widely seen as the scourge of the earth. An absolutely hilarious story of magic, adventure, and a little romance.

Dori: In Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, it’s the summer of 1977, and New York City is haunted by periodic blackouts, arson attacks and most menacingly by serial killer Son of Sam. Nora Lopez is about to graduate from high school and is thinking about her future while dealing with the stress of living with her single mother, a Cuban immigrant, and her younger brother Hector, a drug dealer who abuses his mother. To escape, Nora gets a job at a local deli and starts a relationship with Pablo, a handsome boy who works there too. As the city’s tension swirls around her, Nora must realize some hard truths while finding herself.

Beth: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is set in a dystopia Oz. When Amy finds herself displaced in Oz after a tornado, she learns that Oz is real, but it is not the Oz she had read about growing up. She’s tasked with saving Oz by taking down the all too powerful ruler, Dorothy.

Stacey: In Kids of Appetite, David Almond has been able to address serious issues with such subtle grace. Vic is struggling to cope with the loss of his father to cancer while watching his mom begin a relationship with someone new. Oh, and also Vic has Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that paralyzes his facial muscles. Escaping the house with his father’s ashes, Vic stumbles upon a tight-knit group of outsiders (yep, a nod to the S.E. Hinton book!) each with their own troubles. When they find a message hidden in the urn, the clues lead the kids to discover memories of importance to Vic’s parents. Sweet but never sappy, with a message about kindness, compassion, and living with personal integrity, plus a quirky sense of humor; this book becomes something truly special.

Thank you for joining in and reading along with us for the last few years -I hope you’ve discovered an new favorite author (or two) and (like me) found a little love in your heart for a genre you previously felt “bleh!’ about! (I’m looking at *you* horror genre!)

enjoy!
Stacey

Top Ten of 2016 -if you’re asking me… (aka Stacey’s list)

How is it already the second week of December? Where did the year go? Well, at least we have the “Best of” end of year lists to look forward to… And so, we continue our tradition of Top Ten books we found memorable here on Read it or Weep! Not all the books will have been published this year -but they were read this year- and you’ll find a good mix of long/short, genres and formats, and written for different ages.

I chose sixteen titles (for Top Ten + Six = Sixteen) -they are in alphabetical order by author (cause I’m a librarian) and include books I listened to, read (with my peepers,) fiction, nonfiction, for adult or teen audience. Feel free to let me know if you’ve enjoyed some of these as much as I did!

existentialist-cafespill-simmer-falter-witherat-the-edge-of-the-orchardthe-alchemist

1) At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
Oh, please! Do *not* judge this book by it’s cover! -Or even its title really. Charming, easy to read, and thoughtful, you’ll enjoy reading this more than might expect… So, go ahead! Try it! (Don’t forget =Library books are FREE and we offer no hassle returns all year long!)

2) Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
This one will haunt you a little. The unnamed narrator and his dog are damaged but endearing in ways that leave you hoping for the best, even as the story takes a darker turn.

3) At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Starting in the Black Swamp, around the Toledo area, this story takes place during the time of Johnny Appleseed. John Chapman makes a few appearances but it’s the hardscrabble, dysfunctional Goodenough family you’ll get to know best.

4) The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
There are some books I feel like everyone else has already read and I either 1) then stubbornly refuse to read like a big baby or 2) finally cave in and read to discover “everyone” was right to keep suggesting it to me. -I’m glad I caved in on this one!

are-we-smart-enough-to-know-how-smart-animals-arerosalie-lightning

5) Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are by Frans de Waal
After reading this book? I’ll say, “no” with absolute confidence. Read it -we’ll talk!

6) Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart
The author wrote and illustrated a nonfiction graphic novel about how he and his wife grieved the unexpected loss of their little girl. It’s beautiful.

7) To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This book continues to defy my ability to explain all the amazing things going on inside -this is the best I can do: great details about the natural world, historical facts, folklore, and a feeling of mystical truth. (PS -illustrations included!)

to-the-bright-edge-of-the-worldwhen-breath-becomes-airheartless

8) When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi
At thirty-six Paul Kalanithi was on verge of realizing his dream, to become a neurosurgeon who examined not just the mechanical working of the brain but also its cognitive function as part of our moral being. Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, his family, his work, and this book are his lasting legacy.

9) Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Ms. Meyer has a gift for retelling fairy tales and making them unique, modern, thoughtful, outstanding, and all the other adjectives I/you can think of! This is her retelling of Alice in Wonderland… and. it’s. great!

10) Approval Junkie by Faith Salie
This collection of essays has humor, honesty, and some pretty good life lessons packed into every page!

darker-shadea-gatheringm-trainscarlet-women11) and 12) A Darker Shade of Magic *and* A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab
Alternate worlds? Magic? Great characters? Drama and Intrigue? =yep! I’m loving this series!

13) M Train by Patti Smith
Wow. Even when Patti Smith isn’t writing about “big ideas” she’ll “wow” you.

14) A Study of Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
If Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman? Well, that’s this book… You’ll recognize all the odd Holmesian quirks and secondary characters you’ve come to love -plus- you’ll find a whole new set of oddities to enjoy! This could have gone so wrong but it turned out just right!

trouble-is-a-friendnatural-way15) Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly
This is one of those rare, laugh-out-loud (repeatedly!) books. Need I say more?

16) The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
A little bit of horror, a little bit of allegory, and a lot to think about. Ten women are abducted and taken to a desolate bunkhouse in the middle of the remote, Australian Outback. With no way to know who’s responsible for their brutal imprisonment, they begin to form a social order to match their dark world.

Now my hard work is done? I get to sit back and enjoy -with you!- as everyone begins to post their selections as the week goes on… (This makes my book nerd heart so happy!)

happy reading!
Stacey

Don’t be a Grinch… read a HOliday Story!

Ho ho ho! We read Holiday Stories! That means the books below could have prominently featured any holiday happening from Halloween to Valentine’s Day -a pretty big window of possibilities, no? Ready to see what everyone selected? Here we go:

Megan: What Light by Jay Asher is sweet holiday story about Sierra, who’s family operates a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Every year they pack up and head to California to set up their tree lot for the season. Sierra loves this time of year and the chance to see her California best friend even though it means leaving her Oregon life and friends behind. It’s Christmas business as usual on what could be the last year for the lot. That is, until Caleb shows up. Caleb has a bad boy reputation in the small town, but Sierra, despite insisting she isn’t interested in dating, begins to see past that and gest to know the real Caleb. Fans of holiday romances full of hot chocolate, candy canes, and true love won’t want to miss this one.

Dori: Burglar Junior Bender returns in Timothy Hallinan’s holiday offering, Fields Where They Lay. Junior has never been fond of Christmas and this year, things are not looking up. He’s been hired by a threatening member of the Russian mafia to investigate the high burglary rate at the failing, old, Edgerton Mall. Also, his girlfriend has mysteriously up and left him and he needs to figure out what to give his teenager daughter for Christmas. Funny and touching, with a satisfying ending perfect for delivering a dose of Christmas cheer.

Gina: Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Stroll picks up a year after the first book in the series, Winter Street. The Quinn family and Winter Street Inn are all prepared for Nantucket’s traditional Christmas Stroll. This quick story transitions from each character, following each of their weekend experiences. Patriarch Kelley feels confused with his relationships to his first wife, Margaret Quinn, and second wife, Mitzi. Patrick is in jail and his wife Jennifer is trying to raise their three boys to be respectful and responsible despite the current situation. Kevin and girlfriend Isabelle have a beautiful baby girl named Genevieve. In addition to the Winter Stroll the family will be celebrating Genevieve’s baptism during the weekend. Ava has found the love of her life but an accident causes her to question the relationship, not to mention an ex-boyfriend popping into town. Bart, who was deployed to Afghanistan last year, is still MIA, but at the end of the weekend there may be hope. Each chapter kept me excited for the next and would recommend this for a winter read.

Lauren: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson—originally published in 1972—is a delightful book about the horrible Herdman children who take over and wreak havoc on the church’s annual Christmas story play…to hilarious and somewhat miraculous results.  You’ll find it in the children’s section, but it’s a gem that anyone can enjoy.

Beth: In Melissa Ciccocioppo, Peter Skullkid, Asia Erickson, and Eric G. Salisbury’s Contemporary Krampus, we are shown different artistic interpretations of Krampus.  As one of the many companions of Saint Nicholas, Krampus takes his responsibility of punishing the misbehaved children seriously and this book will scare the pants off of them.

Steve: The Christmas Thief, by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, is a simple read for anyone looking for a fluffy Christmas work .  Packy Noonan, who has just been released from prison for scamming millions of dollars from people, is reuniting with his old bumbling buddies to reclaim the flask of diamonds that he hid in a giant spruce tree 12 years ago.  Things go awry as the tree is set to be used this year for the Rockefeller Center tree. Private detective Regen Reilly and her friends have stumbled into this mess. There are a few laughs but not much suspense here, although it’s perfectly suitable for a mindless Christmas read.    

Carol: In The Christmas Town by Donna VanLiere, 21-year-old Lauren Gamble longs for a place to call home and people to call family—she’s even gone so far as posting a Craiglist ad for both. Social media is letting her down when she stumbles upon and is drawn to the nearby small town of Grandon. There she meets a special boy named Ben and begins to volunteer at Glory’s Place, a center for families in need. Could it be true? Might Lauren get the Christmas wish she dreams of?

Sara: I read A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry.  In this short mystery which is set in 1895, a wealthy young wife and mother, Emily Radley, travels from London to a small, dwindling town on the western coast of Ireland.  Her estranged Aunt Susannah is dying and has asked for family to come be with her.  Susannah married a Catholic man and moved to Ireland many years before, disgracing her English family.  Emily is fearful of this rugged, desolate part of Ireland by the sea and resentful that she must leave her home two weeks before Christmas. Once there, she realizes the town has many secrets, and the residents are consumed by guilt because of the death of young shipwrecked sailor seven years before.  Now the winter storms have caused another tragic wreck, and another young sailor is taken in by the town.  Can Emily solve the mystery of the prior sailor’s murder before history repeats itself?  And by doing so, can she save the town of Connemara and allow Aunt Susannah’s last Christmas to be a peaceful one?  This is a quick and engaging read, laced with interesting insight into 19th century relationships between the English and the Irish peoples.

Emma: Oliver the Cat who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton is the story of pub cat Oliver who loses his home in a fire. Unfortunately owner George moves to London during reconstruction and cannot take Oliver along. Two families become his foster families. Oliver has a way to discover exactly what each human needs. In doing so, he saves Christmas and makes lots of people happy. This is a treat for all pet lovers.

Stacey: Just when I thought  there can’t possibly be any more ways to explain the man, the myth, the legend of Santa Claus, I stumbled upon The Christmas Chronicles by Tim Slovenia and found I was wrong!  There are clever explanations to cover all your burning questions, from how Klaus came to create toys for children to why the red suit to those flying reindeer -and they completely make sense. But what makes this book really special is the mix of myth, magic, religion, contemporary pop culture, and faith (in yourself and others.) A charming and thoughtful choice for the holiday season.

Next time? We’ll be reading Teen Fiction! (I realize this is pretty self-explanatory but heck, I’ve got a job to do here!) If you want to read along with us, you’ll want to find a novel aimed at the 18 and younger crowd. Get excited -there are some pretty awesome teen books out there!

Happy Holidays!
Stacey

What’s So Scary? Horror books- of course!

We did it! We talked about dark, scary things that go *bump* in the night and we survived! Don’t forget, horror books are written to frighten the reader and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. So, are you ready for a scary read?

Megan: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated from the original Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, is the story of a picturesque Hudson Valley town that lives under the curse of a 17th century witch. With her mouth and eyes sewn shut she wanders the streets and enters homes and buildings. The residents, all cursed to remain in Black Spring, have protected the town from the outside world, keeping their secret and themselves safe. When a group of frustrated teenagers rebel against the long-standing virtual quarantine, they set in motion a dangerous and deadly series of events. The juxtaposition of the tragic story of a 350 year old witch with the modern day is fascinating. This is a compelling and truly creep read sure to satisfy any horror lover.

Lauren: Dawn is the first book in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Series. Planet Earth has been ravaged by atomic civil war and Lilith is one of the survivors. She has survived because she is in the care of an alien species, the Oankali. However, whether she has been rescued or captured remains debatable. When the Oankali wake Lilith from suspended animation aboard their spaceship she is tasked with learning their language and culture and preparing to assimilate the other humans as they are awakened, before they can make their return to Earth. But it is the mission of the Oankali to genetically merge with the civilizations they discover. Though they initially prevented the total extinction of the human race it becomes clear that Lilith’s children and the generations that come after them will be less than human.

Gina: Knowing of some of the many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I thought it would be a horror. I did not expect for this novella to be as calm as it was. The book begins by following the lawyer Mr. Utterson investigation of an encounter between a young girl and a man known as Mr. Hyde. Through this investigation, Mr. Utterson becomes aware that Mr. Hyde is the beneficiary of a friend and client named Dr. Jekyll. After a confrontation, Mr. Hyde assures Mr. Utterson that everything is alright and in order. Time passes, and another incident happens- evidence points towards Mr. Hyde, but he is nowhere to be found. Instead, Dr. Jekyll appears with a note showing that he has ended any relations with Mr. Hyde. The narration changes to follow Dr. Hastie Lanyon, a collogue of Dr. Jekyll; upon being a witness to the strange transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, he dies of shock. Before his death he writes to Mr. Utterson explaining what he witnessed. Mr. Utterson receives the letter and with concern from Dr. Jekyll’s butler, rushes to the doctor’s home to find the body of Dr. Hyde died from an apparent suicide. Mr. Utterson discovers a note written by Dr. Jekyll; explaining his experimentations and hypothesis of the duel personalities. Dr. Jekyll writes that what began as a simple experiment, easily controlled, became something he could not handle and feared for what more damage could happen and so he decided to end his life, to stop Mr. Hyde.

Sara: I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. This book was a combination of mystery/thriller/horror. Camille Preaker is a Chicago journalist who has recently been hospitalized for self harm-carving various words onto her whole body. She has been suffering for years since the unexplained death of her younger sister Marian, her mother’s favorite child. She reluctantly goes to her tiny hometown to cover the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of another. Camille is reunited with her estranged, unloving mother and her half-sister Amma. As secrets of Camille’s past are revealed, she becomes close to her half sister and learns that her mother is capable of unspeakable things. This book is a page turner, but also deeply disturbing. The twist at the ending makes the journey worthwhile.

Carol: In Come Closer by Sara Gran, Amanda and her husband move into their new trendy loft and all is perfection—until Amanda begins to hear noises in the home and have strange dreams. Amanda’s life begins to spiral out of control. Is the loft haunted; is Amanda losing her mind; or is there something more sinister at work? Read this “scariest book of 2004” and find out!

Steve: Mrs. God by Peter Straub is a creepy, slow moving tale with a letdown of an ending. Professor Standish heads to England for a fellowship at the spooky Esswood House, owned by the aristocratic Seneschal family and home to their renowned library of literature. Odd characters and happenings abound, like servants that vanish or really don’t exist, doors that lock by themselves and whispering mystery voices. Is it Standish’s drinking, madness, or a dark secret of the Seneschals? Unfortunately the end is a train wreck which doesn’t really come to a conclusion, too bad as the first 75% was quite good.

Emma: The book In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters takes place during the height of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. Sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black is sent to San Diego to live with her aunt. Despite the ever present fear of the flu and war, Mary Shelley is eager to reunite with her childhood friend, Stephen. When she learns that Stephen’s brother has made a name for himself among the Spiritualists by claiming to photograph the spirits of the dead, she is determined to prove him a fraud. Her plans are derailed when she is visited by an unsettled spirit. A must-read for fans of historical fiction, the paranormal, and spooky ghost stories.

Dori: Dori: In Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s I Remember You: A Ghost Story, an Icelandic couple buy an abandoned vacation house in an isolated village in hopes of turning it into a vacation rental. They go there in the off season to work on the house and quickly encounter disturbing sights: moving crosses, mysterious footprints and odd smells. Meanwhile, psychologist Freyr, who’s 6-year-old son has gone missing, is asked to help with an investigation into an incident of crude defacement in a preschool. This snowballs into further inquiries into mysterious suicides which involve strangers that are obsessed with the disappearance of his son. This is an eerie, disturbing ghost story that builds to a surprising and tragic conclusion.

Stacey: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is the kind of story that will have you looking over your shoulder, avoiding dark hallways, and jumping at unexpected noises -for days and days …and then… many more days! A group of women, without any discernable connection, have been kidnapped and taken to a desolate bunkhouse in the middle of the remote, Australian Outback. With no way to know who’s responsible for their brutal imprisonment or why they’ve been selected, these women begin to form a social order to match their dark world. Just as disturbing as what readers learn about these conditions is the lack of explanation or information. This is a really smart, psychological horror story!

Next time? We’re going to lighten the mood with -Holiday Stories! This is another one that you can read pretty much anything you’d like as long as a Winter holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve) is prominently featured in the story.

Enjoy!
—Stacey

All the Big Words (are in Literary Fiction!)

That’s right, we discussed literary fiction this time! Literary fiction is defined by a multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. When you read what people had to say about their books, you might just find something to suggest to your own book discussion group!

Megan: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a deeply moving yet disturbing love story. Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and a mentally ill mother, is taught from an early age to not trust anyone. When one of her father’s thugs wrecks his motorcycle eight-year old Wavy is the only one who sees the accident. Her decision to help Kellen will forever change both their lives. Kellen becomes her friend and protector and she is his constant companion. No one takes notice of the relationship between the strange, silent child and the enormous ex-con with a heart of gold until Wavy becomes a teen. Wavy and Kellen’s story is heartbreaking and engrossing and at times even uncomfortable to read about. No matter what you believe about their relationship, their story will stick with you long after the book is done.

Chris: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It’s 1991 and Lotto and Mathilde have just married a few months after falling madly in love with each other at first sight. Theirs is romance friends envy because it seems so perfect in every respect. But a decade later, it’s revealed that things are not always as they seem. Yes, there are two sides to every story and this novel is written with Lotto telling his side first followed by Mathilde’s side which is the more interesting. It reveals the secrets that they kept from each other, and it’s these secrets that ultimately kept the marriage together. A fascinating read–A New York Times Best Seller, Finalist for the 2015 Book Award and named Best Book of the Year by many publications.

Beth: Lynda Cohen Loigman’s introduces us to two sisters by marriage and their families as they cohabitate in a two-family home in Brooklyn, NY. The story unravels the complexity of family relationships as it shares their story over 30 years, through the different family members’ perspectives. The Two-Family House leaves the reader pondering on relationships and choices over a short lifetime.

Gina: In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the story is told by main character Holden; reminiscing on the time in his life that could be considered to be his lowest point. After be expelled from his fourth prep school, Holden went on a journey to New York to find himself. Holden battles with the understanding of innocence, sexuality, and the meaning of life; but through this journey, he finds hope in his sister’s youthfulness. This is a true American coming of age book for everyone to enjoy.

Carol: In The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Lib Wright is a former “Nightingale” nurse in 1850s London who is sent to a small Irish village in order to investigate the locals’ claim that eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten anything in months, but instead is surviving on manna from heaven. Lib is obviously skeptical and when Anna’s health declines during the observation period, Lib finds a hard time avoiding emotional involvement. Is she witnessing a miracle or is Anna in dire need of help? The Wonder is an atmosphere novel with a slow-building suspense that left me completely enthralled from start to finish.

Steve: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a tense page turner that finds Georgia plantation slaves Cora and Caesar on the run as they escape their horrible lives via a vast physical underground railroad. The two at first find their way to South Carolina and settle into a seemingly progressive town with caring citizens, only to find out that the town is doing experiments with disease and birth control on runaway slaves. The two continue seeking freedom elsewhere, while desperately trying to outrun the brutal slave catcher Ridgeway.

Emma: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was written in 1952. For 80+ day’s Cuban fisherman Santiago has had a run of bad luck. He’s caught no fish. So Santiago finally travels far beyond the other fishing boats and eventually catches a giant marlin. It takes him two days and nights to bring the fish back to shore strapped to the side of his boat. He loses most of it to sharks on his return trip. The marlin would have fed him for many months or it could have been sold at a good price. This is a rather sad but beautiful long short story.

Dori: In Joan London’s award-winning book The Golden Age, 12-year-old Frank Gold is convalescing at a home for victims of polio after World War II. The child of Hungarian refugees who have unwillingly been resettled in Perth, Australia, he’s an observant, dreamy boy who yearns to be a poet. When we first meet him, he’s wheeling around the hospital with one goal: to glimpse Elsa, the only other child his age and the object of his affections. The book doesn’t just limit itself to Frank and Elsa, though; London is attentive to all her characters and their inner lives. Her writing has a lovely radiance and she’s able to evoke the feelings of displacement, growing up, finding hope and safety and, of course, love.

Sarah: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is about a young mother, Lucy Barton, who is recovering from a minor operation that became complicated and and kept her in the hospital for months. She and her mother haven’t spoken for years, having become estranged after Lucy’s harsh upbringing in a poverty-stricken small town. Yet Lucy is touched and grateful when her mother comes to visit for five days. She tells Lucy about the town and people of her youth, about their marriages, lives and deaths, as she and Lucy begin to reconnect. However there is an underlying tension as memories of Lucy’s troubled childhood surface, and we are given a glimpse into how complicated family relationships can be. This was a fascinating and engaging story that left me wanting to get to know Lucy Barton and her mother better.

Lauren: The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel. We meet Edie Boyd, a shy and lonely teenager living in California during the late-1960s. She meets a group of girls—mysterious and magnetic Suzanne stands out—and is slowly drawn into their isolated world of counter-culture, freedom, sex, and drugs. At the helm is their leader, Russell, whom the girls all seem to worship. Split between the present-day and Edie’s remembrance of the past, a frightening picture is slowly painted as the girls approach a horrific point-of-no-return.

Stacey: Open the cover on To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey and you’ll find yourself spirited away to a different time and place. Multiple storylines are told concurrently with subtle shifts in tone and style to reflect each character, descriptions of the natural world mix easily with mystical elements, and the use of images enhance a reader’s experience. Recording the past as journal entries but calling certain aspects into question through a contemporary correspondence builds one complex story full of subtle, surprising moments. A beautifully crafted book, from the wildly adventurous story to the presentation on the pages, this is a reading experience you won’t soon forget.

Next time we’ll cover the dangerous world of horror fiction! Horror books are written to frighten the reader (obvs?) and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. Turn on all the lights and -enjoy!

—Stacey